8 Nov 2019

Digital Magic - Chapter 2

Chapter 2

I wake up with the sun streaming through my window.  The back of my mind is telling me that something is wrong; the sun streams in only in the afternoon.  Crap.  I slept late.  I know it's Saturday, but I had some plans.  I roll out of bed, still in the t-shirt and jeans I had on last night.  Crap.  Crap crap crap.  Okay, time to get moving, salvage the remains of the day, finish the damned assignment, get a life.  First, a shower.  I grab clothes for today; underwear, an oversized plain black t-shirt, and a pair of track pants.  Should do for all my afternoon errand running.  Then I can sit down and figure out what I did to the game.

Clothes under my arm, I leave my bedroom and head towards the shower.  Unfortunately, Trish is in the living room and notices me.  "Finally," she says.

"Morning," I mumble.  If I can just get to the bathroom . . ..

"Jackie, we need to talk."

So much for escaping.  "Trish, I don't --"

"Yes you do.  I was expecting to see you last night.  Instead, I find you here in the apartment looking the same way you did when you left yesterday morning.  You're turning into a hermit, Jackie."

I half-sit on the arm of the couch.  "The assignment took longer than I thought."

Trish arches a perfect red-tinged eyebrow.  "It's not even due this weekend."

"I had a thought I wanted to follow through with before I forgot it.  I lost track of the time, that's all.  By the time I got the program to work, it was too late to bother going out."

"And how long were you online after that?"

I feel my cheeks grow warm.  "I don't know."

Trish shakes her head, disappointed.  "Jackie . . . you need to get out.  It's been too long since you had a date."

"I've been busy."

"Look, if it's because of the guy back in June--"

7 Nov 2019

Digital Magic - Commentary 1

Digital Magic was my second ever NaNoWriMo project back in 2007.  I figured a SF/fantasy/romance mashup should be easy.  Ha!  This is what I will call my glorious mess.  Romance isn't easy.

The idea I had was to mix magic, video games, and romance.  Sounds like it should be at least interesting.  What you'll see is that I got focused on one element at the cost of the other two.  But, there's stuff in the story that I feel I can salvage for use elsewhere.  Not a complete loss, but disappointing in retrospect.

The first scene is on Jackie's favourite game character, one of her own devising.  She's playing a nameless MMO, one not based on any that existed at the time.  To be honest, I don't play MMOs.  If I want to go slay monsters with friends, I'm pulling out D&D or some other RPG.  The MMO is more or less what I want to see in one, not what exists commercially.  And, given that there's a twelve year gap between when I wrote Digital Magic and today, there's a tech gap as well.

Chapter 1, like many of my Chapter 1s, presents the main character, in this case, Jackie, in a typical day in her life.  I realized in later works that I do this to show when things start going weird for the character.  There's dropping a character /in media res/ to get the action going, and that works if weird is normal for the character.  Here, though, Jackie is a student, not a spy or a mystery writer.  Heaven's Rejects can get away with the weird coming up early; that's Nadia and Ian's job.  Digital Magic needs the slow build up.

The not-quite-off screen sex scene just happened.  I tend to pants my way through writing, so if something came about organically from the scene, I went with it.  Trish is the more outgoing of her and Jackie.  There's backstory, and some of that comes out later.  They are friends, but Jackie is well aware of who Trish is, and vice versa.

I may have been asking for trouble writing in the first person.  Thing is, I couldn't figure out how to work a later scene in third person.  While I pants, if I get an idea of something to add, I will work my way up to it, using the idea as a guide post.  The advantage of first person is being in the character's head and knowing what she thinks and feels.  The disadvantage is that you're stuck with that character.  The character has to be interesting.  While Jackie did go digging through the settings, I'm hoping her thought processes help keep things fresh.

Tomorrow, girls' night out in Digital Magic Chapter 2.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, The Expanse Season 2.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, fixing and remaking The Raven.

1 Nov 2019

Digital Magic - Chapter 1

Chapter 1

Jacinda stopped as the trees thinned to a clearing.  She knew her quarry lurked in the plains ahead.  The dragon had been terrorizing the area for far too long, and the mage remained determined to put an end to it.  It would be easier if the rest of her group had survived with her; one by one, they succumbed to wounds.  The serpent had allies, enough to toss at her and her friends to slow them down.  With a determined look on her face, Jacinda stepped out into the open.  The beast would pay for its ravages.

A lone man came running from the distance.  "Flee!  It's unstoppable!"

Jacinda stopped.  The wind teased her long golden hair and her light robes.  The foul creature had found a new victim.  Jacinda vowed that the man running would not fall to the dragon.  "Over here!" she called.

The sprinting man changed course and ran towards the fair magician.  "Get out of here!  Run while you still can!"  Behind him lumbered an impossibly tall creature Jacinda had never seen before.  "Go!"

Jacinda stood her ground.  She held her hands in front of her, elbows bent outward, fingers taut.  A wisp of flame appeared between her hands.  The fire grew in size and intensity, but never burning the magician's hands.  She released the flame.  The fireball blazed overhead and struck the creature true in the chest.  The beast kept moving, unaffected by the inferno that had hit him.

"It's immune," the man panted as he reached Jacinda.  "I tried the same thing."

"We can't outrun it."  Jacinda held her arms straight out, her palms facing the ground.  The ground rumbled.  Bits of earth erupted from the ground to form a human-like mass.  Jacinda pointed at the approaching creature.  "Delay that!"  The elemental trod towards its target.

"That can stop it?"

"Hell no.  It's buying us time."  The magician held her left arm straight over her head.  A green glow appeared, surrounding her hand.  A similar glow enveloped the monster as the elemental neared it.  "Do you have any spells that can help?"

"Everything I have is fire-based."

Jacinda eyed the fight.  Her elemental traded blow for blow, but looked more battered than the creature.  "Right."  She brought her hands together in front of her.  A pattern of energy zipped around her interlocked fingers before streaking at the beast.  The whirling energy changed from fire to lightning to ice to raw magic, clawing at the monster.  As the maelstrom ravaged the beast, Jacinda cast another spell.  Blades fell from the sky, piercing the monster's hide.  "It's weakening!  Get it before the spells end!"

The man produced a shining sword and leapt at the creature.  He swung his sword in a wide arc.  The blade cut deep into the monster's chest.  The elemental kept pounding its rocky fists on the creature's leg.  Still away from the melee, Jacinda cast another spell, one that sent a stream of swords into the creature, stunning it.  Unable to defend itself, the monster fell and lay unmoving.

-**-

I push the keyboard away.  So much for the dragon.  Damned newbies going around a new area and aggravating new monsters.  I should have dropped an area effect spell on both the monster and the newb.  Why I thought this game would relax me is beyond me right now.  I should have played the Sims – no, wait, I wanted to keep track of time.

On screen, my magician, Jacinda, stood waiting for me to do something.  There's times where I think she's annoyed with me for being so slow.  Of course, those are also the times when I've had too much to drink.  I probably should just shut down the game and return to my assignment.

A flash on my monitor catches my eye.  I look closer; someone in the game wants to chat with me.  What's surprising is that the gamer is using proper English.  What the heck, why not see what he wants.  If he wants to cyber, I'll just shut down anyway.

Are you still online?

Okay, not much to judge grammar by, but he did type out "you" in full.  I type back that I am.

Sorry for dragging you into my mess.  I should have been able to handle it without dragging anyone else in.

That's different.  No one's ever been sorry for screwing up another player's plans before.  I type back, That's okay.  I was probably going to be killed tonight anyway.

The way you handled yourself?  Most players I've seen would have kept using their most powerful spell and hope that it's enough.

He's got me there.  Thanks.

Let me make it up to you.  I've got an invite for a new game in development and they're looking for beta testers.  I think you'd give the game a challenge.  Interested?  I can send the links by email.

Beta test?  Oh, why not?  Who knows, maybe I can get a job with the company when I finally get my Computer Science degree.  I type in my throwaway Hotmail address.  So who should I be expecting in my inbox?

Lance179.  And thanks again for saving my bacon.  And with that, he leaves the game.  Not a bad idea, really.  I quit as well.  I stifle a yawn.  Must be later than I thought.  Before I can check the time, I hear the front door unlock.  Probably my roommate, but I better check.

Padding on bare feet out of my room, I see my roommate, Tricia Halliwell, pulling her key out of the lock.  I have no idea how she's remaining steady on her stiletto heels and not show her ass in that barely-there skirt of hers.  Her cheeks are flushed rosy.  "Did it turn cold out?" I ask.

Trish looks over to me, staggering a little, causing her red curls to bounce a little.  She titters at her mis-queue.  "Jacqueline Hart, what are you doing home?  I thought you were going to meet us at the bar."  Her eyes are unfocused as she stares at me.

"What are you doing home so early?"

"What early?"  Trish giggles.  "It's past three."  As I glance at the clock and see she's right, she continues, "You weren't playing online again, were you?"  She shakes her head at me, then adds an admonishment.  "Geez, Jackie."

I feel my cheeks grow warm.  "I was going to, but my assignment took longer than I expected.  Have a good time?"

Trish's laughter trilled.  "Would have been better if you were there.  You should have seen some of the guys there.  Mmm.  Oh, wait."  She stepped out for a moment, then dragged a sandy haired guy into our apartment.  "Jackie, this is Simon.  Simon, my roommate Jackie."

Simon gives me a half-wave.  "Hi."

I try to smile.  "Hi."  So much for getting to sleep right away.  Trish is, how can I put it, enthusiastic in bed.  Ear-piercing levels of enthusiastic.  I head to the kitchen.  "Anyone else want tea?"

"No, thanks."  Trish still has a hold on Simon.  It looks like they're trying to merge into one.  Simon's hand disappears behind Trish, eliciting more giggles from her.  I turn away so I can roll my eyes.  "Don't be that way, Jackie," Trish admonishes.

I make a show of getting out a mug and a teabag.  "What way, Trish?  I just want a tea before I go to bed."  I hope that Simon won't last longer than it takes me to finish drinking.  Without turning to see either Trish or her boy toy, I fill the kettle and put it on to boil.

"We'll talk tomorrow, Jackie."

I hear Trish's bedroom door slam shut.  My shoulders relax a little.  Maybe she's drunk enough that she won't remember wanting the talk.  A shriek of laughter erupts from the bedroom.  Simon isn't wasting anytime.  By the time the kettle boils, Trish is already moaning in rhythm.

All right, I'm being hard on her.  Naturally curly hair, good figure, legs that won't quit, and constantly being hit on by men.  The only thing I have on her is height and cup size, and she even manages to beat me out on the latter by being perkier.  If Trish wasn't my best friend since kindergarten, I'd probably hate her.

Trish's moans have climbed up an octave and have grown louder.  I give up on focusing on my tea.  There's no way I can pretend I don't hear the chorus coming out of her bedroom.  With any luck, Simon won't be able for another go.  I pray that he won't be.  I just want to go to bed.  Trish reaches her loudest, then stops.

I finish the last few drops of my tea and trudge back to my own room.  At last, quiet enough so I can get to dreamland.  Trish starts her moaning again; this time I can hear her louder and clearer through the thin wall between our rooms.  I groan.  Fine, Trish can get her groove on all night.  I've got something else I can do.  Lance179's email.  I can grab his link, download the play test files, and see if the game is decent.  In the meantime, I set my iPod to shuffle and try to isolate myself with music.

The earphones don't completely muffle Trish's cries.  Please, Simon, do give her more so I can get to sleep sometime before the sun rises.  I refrain from hammering the wall.  Never has helped before.  As the download completes, I stare outside.  Fat snowflakes float like autumn leaves, settle on the window, and melt.  Odd, since the forecast called for clear and well above freezing.  I bring up Environment Canada's webpage and check the conditions.  The forecast hasn't changed, but the current weather does say light snow.  Not to mention that Trish didn't complain about the cold, especially in her outfit.  Weird.  Global warming, go fig.

The download finishes and I start the installation.  Nice and smooth, no glitches, no odd questions, registration is painless, and five minutes later, the game is running.  Graphics are impressive, but that's a given these days.  The title screen calls the game "Valor Quest: The Test of Lord Tottenheim".  A nice intro movie explaining the world starts; I watch it to see if anything inspires me.  The back story could use some work.  Right now, it's a Tolkien rip-off, with a great evil threatening to spread throughout the world.  I suppose it's good enough for now, but I'd be disappointed by it if I had, you know, paid money for this.

I'm jarred out of the game when Trish climaxes.  She should have gone into musical theatre; wouldn't even need a microphone.  I turn down the volume on my iPod and wait to see if there's another encore from next door.  With no sounds of love making coming after a minute or two, I leave the iPod's volume down and let a out a sigh.

Back to the game, I check what options I have.  Looks like the usual: warrior, wizard, rogue, priest, and variants of each.  I'll try my favourite character type, the sorceress, like Jacinda, to see how well she can be done.

Navigation is nice; the choices are easy to find and easy to click.  I have several choices of wizard; generalist, summoner (here, Spot!), necromancer (ew, no), invoker (hmmm), and illusionist (maybe if I was fully awake).  Jacinda has always been a generalist, using all sorts of spells, so that's what I'll try.  I can modify her appearance, but the selection of hair styles and robe colours isn't that big.  That's something that the developers can change, though.  It could be that they're trying to test game play and will worry about details later.  Still, something to bring up.  I get Jacinda version nine done.  Yeah, I've played her in many games, including The Sims; she was a little vixen there and now has far too many grandchildren to keep track of in Veronaville.

Off to the virtual world I go!  Jacinda Nine materializes in the middle of a city near an ornate fountain with streams of water coming out of a trio of dolphins.  Nice touch, that.  I'm not overly happy with her grey robe and the plain staff in her hand  I get Jacinda to walk around the the market to see what's there and to see how well she moved.  Her hips have a bit of a wiggle to them.  The boys will enjoy that touch.  Me, not so much, but I've seen worse.  Walking and running animations are flawless, though, wiggling notwithstanding.  Time to see if she can talk to the locals and spend some of the gold in her belt pouches.

As I start to click on a local merchant, my finger slips somehow and an options menu appears on screen.  I read through the list of changeable attributes, looking for something that won't cause a fatal crash before I've saved anything.  Colour looks to be the safest.  I try entering a number in the field then apply it.  Jacinda's bland robe turns pink.  She is so not a pink.  I change the number again, trying to remember my colour codes.  My memory isn't so good at this hour.  Whatever this hour is.  I check the time on my alarm clock.  The glowing numbers are trying to tell me it's 4:07.  Or the secret of the universe.  Way past bedtime, at least.  I type in what I hope is the correct code for light blue and apply the change.  Jacinda's robe is now a deep blue.  Close enough.  I close the attribute screen and think about sending an email to the development team.  Of course, what could I say?  "This screen popped up and I changed my character's outfit colours but I can't say how I did it?"  Tomorrow, I'll try getting the pop up again and make note of how I did it.  For now, though, I exit the game and turn off the monitor.  Without changing, I drop on to my bed.

NaNoWriMo 2019 is Go!

It`s that time of year again.  NaNoWriMo is go!  Fifty thousand words, thirty days, it's dark, and I have no plan.  Should be a fun one.

31 Oct 2019

Heaven's Rejects - Final Commentary

Heaven's Rejects was fun to write.  I had no plan, just characters and a broad concept that let me send my cast wherever I wanted if the whim amused me.  The series wasn't serious, as the animated Elvii can attest to.  The goal was to try a new twist on the masquerade a lot of urban fantasy tries to maintain.  The masquerade is blown, so let's have a camera crew follow a team!

The characters helped a lot.  They had strong personalities that carried a few chapters alone.  Demona was fun to write - half-succubus, half-Catholic, all librarian.  Nadia turned into her Demona's opposite, mortal, flawed, and perpetually cranky.  Ian was the fun-loving one of the group, the stable bedrock for the other two.  The dynamic kept things fresh for me.

Drawbacks, though, were the lack of planning and the subsequent pacing issues.  I had to rein in the desire to get to the punchline with the Elvis impersonators in the third arc.  The second arc had things boiling up without a solution until I started digging into American history.  The chapter length should've been shorter in a few cases.  Hindsight leads to learning if viewed properly, though, and the problems I had while writing Heaven's Rejects should be smoothed over in the future.

The lack of planning, though, also lets me take into account weirdnesses that come up while I'm writing.  The zombie Elvii were inspired by the bingo cards created by the local municipal liaisons.  I'm not committed to a specific ending if something better comes up.  There's a trade off between planning and pantsing, and while pantsing takes effort during the act of writing instead of off-loading some of it before writing begins, it also feels more organic.  I had an outline for By the Numbers that I kept to until the end, where the direction of the story meant Numbers leaving.  The story was kept in a steady direction, but it didn't feel right at the end of writing.  It works now, after the passage of time.  Meanwhile, stories like Unruly and The Soul Blade had the story grow organically, leaving me more satisfied at the ned.

One thing that I may not do again is include character asides with their pics.  The formatting takes time, and I'd want a greater variety of images to reflect the characters' moods.  It was an experiment with Heaven's Rejects.  If I could draw, I might have gone that route.  I do like having pictures to refer to with my characters, even if I have to build them in a video game.  The act of describing the character forces me to consider elements I'd have never thought of.

NaNo is coming, so I hope to remember what I learned with Heaven's Rejects.

Tomorrow, going back a bit, or romance be hard, yo.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, The Raven.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, The Expanse Season 2.

25 Oct 2019

A Breather

This past week has been hectic.  Can*Con ran all last weekend, forcing a delay in my usual weekend chores.  That wouldn't have been so bad, but Monday was election night, and I didn't have time before work to find my poll, so after work it was.  By the time I was done and home, I was too tired to go back out and do laundry, which was getting needed.  Tuesday, laundry, because it was needed.  Wednesday had a quick grocery run, something else postponed from the weekend, plus finally getting to watch the planned review for Lost in Translation.

In short, I am beat.  I managed to get the writing I wanted done - the commentary and the review.  But I am behind, so this is what I can do for today.

The plan, though, is to start a new serial next week, and one last commentary for Heaven's Rejects while still getting next week's review properly researched and prepping for NaNo.  I should be caught up just in time for NaNo to take over my life.  I also want to get an index set up for both LTV Paranormalists and Heaven's Rejects so that they can be found more easily.  There's also a new edition of Shadowrun out to test character creation for.  I have ideas.

The blog will go on and on and on, but I just need a breather.

24 Oct 2019

Heaven's Rejects - Commentary 11

A start of an overseas adventure, in Heaven's Rejects Chapter 11.

Tel Aviv, Israel, chosen because it counts as two words during NaNoWriMo, three if I include the country name.  The best city for that might be Ho Chi Minh City in Viet Nam, but the idea I had for this arc wound up going to the Mediterranean.

First, though, Episode 11 was the last full chapter written before I ran out of steam during NaNo 2018.  I broke past 50k words and kept going a little further, but between having to do the research I wanted and the sheer marathon NaNo is, I ran out of steam.  Heaven's Rejects gets added to the other unfinished serials as to-be-done-when-ideas-recharge.  NaNo is fulfilling, but exhausting.  I maintained a good average for the month, about 2000 words/day until I hit the wall.

The research I got into was all on mermaids.  I wanted to find out where the first mermaid legend was and got the Eastern Mediterranean, near Assyria.  A bit more research and I worked out the general plot.  The catch, though, is keeping the cast from figuring out what's happening too fast.  Fortunately, there are many reasons for people to go missing off the coast of Israel and neighbouring countries.  Demona's guess of a water bender causing waterspouts to pick up sharks comes from crossing Avatar: The Last Airbender and the Sharknado series, so she's not even close yet.

Turns out, Ian loves a good bad B-movie.  Demona just wanted to keep hip to what the kids who went to her library were watching.  Shakrnado is just cheesy and deliberately so.  It became a brief phenomenon and carried on from there.  Having a character watch it made sense.  It ties them into the real world just a little more.

Nadia's reputation precedes her.  She tends to leave a bit of a wake behind her.  There are a few places she's not allowed to go to anymore.  Israel isn't one of them, but the Section Chief is well aware of her proclivities.  He also keeps notes.  Lots of notes.  More notes than I do.

Next week, I'll add a commentary for the story overall.  Thanks you for reading and please feel free to comment on the parts, even if it has been months.

A breather tomorrow.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, RWBY After the Fall.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, The Raven.